The Governor Party – Managers I

My recent post Urbans and Suburbans in State Government engendered some good discussion on these pages and got picked up over at by the Government Relations and Public Policy Professionals of Massachusetts, or GovProsMass for short (join them at linkedin if you are in the field). Several of the GovProsMass who responded disagreed with me but it was a good discussion with knowledgeable people. That prompted me to go back to the work I’ve been doing on Edgar Litt’s The Political Cultures of Massachusetts, this time on Litt’s managers. Or as I identified them in the Urbans and Suburbans post, the Governor Party. To be governor you must be a manager.

That wasn’t always the case. Those Litt identified as workers could be governor, as could patricians. But patricians are pretty rare these days and when they crop up, like Bill Weld, they appeal as managers. We don’t elect workers to the corner office anymore; workers get the legislature. Litt’s last group was yeomen but their impact is now channeled through the Tea Party.

Managers are highly educated, middle to upper middle class, and believe in rationality and competence. They have a global outlook and are liberal on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. They are concerned with the welfare of the less well-off but want to be assured that their tax dollars are spent efficiently and without the diversions of political patronage.

When Litt wrote in 1965 the managers were the rising power and the workers were receding. That was in part a result of post-WWII factors like the GI Bill. Irish, Italian and other of the “new races” once derided by the Protestant establishment were graduating college and assuming leadership positions not only in politics but in law, business, and medicine. James Michael Curley was out, Jack Kennedy was in.

Reformers saw much to object to in the Democratic establishment. Some including the ambitious Brookline state representative Michael Dukakis formed the Commonwealth Organization of Democrats (COD) to challenge the party regulars. Given the upheaval of Vietnam, the civil rights and women’s movements as well as the ongoing corruption in the state, COD’s timing was impeccable. By 1974 Dukakis had seized the Democratic nomination and the corner office from the stunned Irish regulars. Except for a brief
interregnum in the Ed King years, the managers have controlled the governor’s office.

The only Democratic candidate with a worker mindset to gain the gubernatorial nomination in twenty years was John Silber – and he was a university president with a history of tough management tactics. Subsequent nominees of the Democratic Party were all part of or at least paid homage to the managerial culture. Even Deval Patrick, who makes much of his impoverished upbringing in Chicago, is equally the boy from the South Side as the man from Harvard and Harvard Law, not to mention the board of directors of Coca-Cola.

The case is similar on the Republican side. Bill Weld was a patrician but dependent on the votes of managers. Paul Cellucci was a descendant of small town businessmen but he gained essential political traction as Weld’s lieutenant governor.  Western Massachusetts’s Jane Swift was elected as Cellucci’s lieutenant governor and took the corner office when Cellucci decamped for Canada as Unites States ambassador. She was brushed aside by Mitt Romney. Romney relied upon his business background to attract voters in 2002. His lt. governor, Kerry Healey, was raised in straitened circumstances but by the time she entered into public life had graduated from Harvard and attained a PhD at Trinity College in Dublin.  Republican 2010 nominee Charlie Baker made his name as a manager nonpareil, first in the Weld administration and later by turning around the financially ailing Harvard Pilgrim Health Care insurance company. One damaging blow to his 2010 gubernatorial campaign was Michael Rezendes’ and Noah Bierman’s Boston Globe examination of his record as a manager of the Big Dig.

Ask Tim Cahill. Once he could have challenged Deval Patrick with worker backing in the Democratic primary (like King defeated Dukakis, or Silber in 1990). By 2010 that task was hopeless and Cahill tried to carve out a plurality in the general election as an independent.

That was a fool’s errand. We only elect members of the Governor Party to the corner office.

About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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